Bangsar Fight Club

Someone asked me how the latest works by Noor Azizan Rahman Paiman @ Paiman and Roslisham Ismail @ Ise at Galeri Seni Maya, Bangsar, would look like. I answered, from my recollection of past encounters, that they would probably be the usual Dadaist, Rauschenberg-like stuff or imitations of Saatchi’s stable of British upstarts in approach and spirit. But came opening night, there were no mind boggling installation / performance works, just plain old-fashioned drawings. Curated by Nur Hanim Khairuddin from the Perak Arts Foundation (YKP) who herself is an artist of repute, the exhibition is titled Lightweight vs Heavyweight, alluding to the diverse experience and accolades garnered between both men.

The drawing styles (using ink, ballpoint pen, collage and watercolours) presented here lacks (or perhaps intentionally rejects!) the dogmas indoctrinated by formalism’s various ‘denominations’ in this country, such as abstract expressionism, social realism, naturalism, artists as capitalist opportunism, etc. Ise’s ‘Illustration from Memory’, showcasing drawings and animation / video works, made possible with assistance from fellow artists Hezrey Hj. Shariff and Khairul Azmir Shoib, are similar to those favoured by graphic designers of underground rave parties or electronica / post rock album covers. While Paiman’s ‘The Code’ is reminiscent of the drawings of naïve / self-taught artists (popularly known as Outsiders), from 19th century Europe, it also bears traces of surrealistic illustrations that traditionally accompany books of limericks, nonsense poems and children’s story of that time.

Both have their own unique stories to tell as expected, since from the beginning of their artistic endeavors they have always favoured the narrative over the purely expressive. Paiman, a veteran in the local visual art scene – honourable mentions at the Philip Morris in 1995 and 97; Minor Awards at the Young Contemporary Awards of National Art Gallery in 92, 94 and 97, and a Major Award in 2002; plus a scholarship to Manchester Metropolitan University and a residence programme at the 1st Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale, just to name a few awards under his belt – is known for his subtle but cynical political observations and commentaries.

In this exhibition, Paiman portrays a strange fantasy world inhabited by androgynous, amorphous beings with flying capabilities. Quotes by famous local figures (“Yang Arif, thank you and may God bless you.” –Anwar Ibrahim) collected over the years from various print media are typed into the works, using a real typewriter. These strange beings have three caste-like categories. The first set has pronounced characteristics – they are depicted almost human and in heroic poses. The quotes attached to them also contribute to the idea of integrity. Others of a shadier disposition are portrayed in less flattering manners – villainous looking insects and pests whose mischievous gaze betrays questionable intents. Finally those whose ‘nature’ is still at its nascent stage are presented as a pastiche of incompatible images with various shapes in perpetual motion.

Though Paiman claims that he did not deliberate assign the quotes to the pictures, since they were added on long after the drawings were finished, one can’t help but find that the correlations between text and image are extremely apt; the human mind seeks and finds logical patterns even in the most abstract of ideas and images. Those observations are especially made cogent by experience.

And Ise – consolation awards at the Shah Alam Gallery; a special mention at the Young Contemporary Awards, 2000; an honourable mention at the Philip Morris, 2003; and residency programmes with Ruang Rupa, Jakarta, and Khoj International Artist Workshop, New Delhi – on the other hand, is more self referential. He illustrates from experiences, travels, states of mind, and reactions to situations, especially those rooted in his life as a visual artist. All this are clearly elucidated from the avatars he assumes in his drawings.

His Superman Jr. (with shorts!) avatar refers to an earlier more optimistic period, when his art career was going up up and away. It later evolves into a Spaceman cum adventurer type, following opportunities and invitations to travel overseas, meeting like-minded artists.

He finally settles on a robot that goes around in sneakers, windbreaker and a robotic dog. The present avatar is perhaps Ise’s own way of ‘steeling’ his emotions, for his sense of worth as an artist was severely questioned and vilified recently – by the very comments posted here on the Bakat Muda Sezaman listing at Kakiseni (“for me the worst artworks at bms is ise works the judge should reject it dari awal lagi!!!!!!!!!!”). On the verge of disillusionment, many friends, both local and abroad, came to his defence. They are portrayed here as Astroboy, fellow robots, and many others. Mud-kickers, shit-starters and back-stabbers are collectively represented as arrows, fallen dragons and even a giant shadow which collapses under its own weight, like the wall of ‘kotaks’ Ise stacked and later destroyed as an entry (in video form) for last year’s Young Contemporaries Awards at National Art Gallery.

This exhibition resulted from director of Galeri Seni Maya Rafizah Abdul Rahman’s commitment to introduce artworks that are slightly different, adventurous and affordable (RM350 onwards) to the art buying public. In the process, artists have more room to manoeuvre artistically, and the public have more choices to fit their fancy. It is a risk that Rafizah believes in taking as it places her gallery in a different position when compared to ‘other’ more commercially-oriented galleries. It also endears her to young, up-coming artists – they know they won’t be forced to conform or compromise at Galeri Seni Maya.

Joining Paiman and Ise in his solo ‘debut’ is 8-year-old Mohd. Rashad Suhaimi, in whose drawings – monsters and ultramen – Ise and Paiman saw a kindred spirit. All three share the ability to see difficult, complex life problems and realities succinctly through child-like eyes, cutting through the mendacity and hypocrisy that is so prevalent in the world of adults.


Tan Sei Hon is a visual artist and singer-songwriter. He cycles to the Balai Seni Lukis.

First Published: 21.04.2005 on Kakiseni

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